Comparing Themes in The Return of the Native and Great Expectations

Comparing Themes in The Return of the Native and Great Expectations

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Themes in The Return of the Native and Great Expectations

     Classic novels usually share in the aspect of universal themes

which touch people through out the ages. All types of audiences can relate

to and understand these underlying ideas. Victorian novels such as Thomas

Hardy's The Return of the Native and Charles Dickens' Great Expectations

are examples of literary classics that have universal themes. Hardy's tale

illustrates the role of chance in his characters lives. Through the story

we encounter events of pure coincidence and their effects. Dickens,

considered to be more of a reformer (Literature Online), tries to portray a

social theme in his novel. The basic theme of Great Expectations is that

good does not come from ones social standing but rather comes from their

inner value. These novels are considered classics because of their timeless


      Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native displays a theme of chance.

Book First, chapter 8 contains a perfect example. Eustacia persuades young

Johnny Nunsuch into helping her feed a fire. She dismisses him and begins

to walk home. Before reaching home, he is frightened by the light coming

from the heath and returns to discover Wildeve meeting with Eustacia. By

pure chance, Venn discovers the boy and quizzes him.


"Then I came down here, and I was afeard, and  I went back; but I didn't

like to speak to her, because of the gentleman, and I came on here again"

[Johnny Nunsuch]


" A gentleman--ah! What did she say to him, my man?"   [Diggory Venn]


"Told him she supposed he had not married the other woman because he liked

his old sweetheart best; and things like that"   [Johnny Nunsuch]


[Book First, chapter 8, pp. 82]


This chance exchange reveals that Wildeve is meeting with Eustacia. Venn

uses this to his advance by announcing himself to Mrs. Yeobright as a

suitor for Thomasin. This backfires because Mrs. Yeobright tries to use the

second suitor to force Wildeve to marry Thomasin. These events all occur

from the chance meeting between Venn and Johnny Nunsuch. Another example of

chance and coincidence can be seen in the famous gambling scene of Book

Third, chapter VII. This is perhaps one of the most critically examined

parts of the book.


" "Very well," said Wildeve, rising.

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Searching about with the lantern, he

found a large flat stone, which he placed between himself and Christian,

and sat down again. The lantern was open to give more light, and it's rays

directed upon the stone. Christian put down a shilling, Wildeve another,

and each threw. Christian won. They played for two. Christian won again."

[Book Third, chapter 7, pp. 229]


This quote begins the drama of the scene. Mrs. Yeobright had entrusted

Christian to deliver a minor inheritance to Clym and Thomasin. He gets

involved in a dice game with Damon and unfortunately loses all hundred

guineas. By chance, Diggory Venn passes by and in the hope of protecting

Thomasin, wins back all the money from Wildeve. He mistakenly hands over

all the winnings to Thomasin without understanding that part of the money

belongs to Clym. This chance occurrence led to a tragic end. Although he

was trying to do good, Venn succeeded to further create conflict. Critics

agree with this standpoint.


"The Return of the Native is concerned with the 'general malaise in the

life of humanity. Man is a pawn in life's lottery .... Man's life avails

him nothing. Men are just incidental in creation.  Man may protest against

his fate, but it makes no difference, he only a plaything, he cannot master

his destiny." [Henry Adler]


In these examples and critical quotes, we see the negative stance Hardy is

taking in the immoral theme of chance.


      Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is also a classic novel due

to its universal theme of true good.


"Great Expectations is Charles Dickens' "most compactly perfect book,"

mainly because of the universal themes that are fully realized throughout

the novel. Furthermore, as an explanation of why Great Expectations is

Dicken's finest work, it becomes necessary study to study the thematic

elements that are prevalent within the storyline." [George Bernard Shaw]


The theme is developed through a character Pirrip Philip, a poor orphaned

boy living with his sister and her husband, Joe. He is a father figure for

the boy and is a hard working blacksmith, loyal and good friend. While

visiting his family's grave site, he is approached by an escaped convict

who demands that Pip bring him food and a metal file. He does so promptly

but the convict is quickly recaptured. After some time he is hired by an

rich eccentric woman named Miss Havisham to be her adopted daughters

playmate. Jaggers, a lawyer, informs Pip that someone has settled money for

the boy and he has "great expectations".


" Now I return to this young fellow. And the communication I got to make is,

that he has Great Expectations" [Chapter 18, pp. 151]


For some time now Pip was disliking the "uncommon" life and started to

admire the lifestyle of Miss Havisham and the upper class. To put it short,

he was becoming a snob. This event advanced the plot and theme. Under the

agreement made Pip was not supposed to know who his benefactor was although

he believed it to be Miss Havisham. One evening while living in England, a

stranger appears to visit Pip. It was the convict of his youth. Named

Magwitch, he has been Pip's benefactor all along. This was his way of

repaying his charity as a youth. The events that follow with Magwitch teach

Pip love and humility. His snobbish quality is removed. After the convicts

death, Pip becomes ill and is nursed back to health by his true friend Joe.

The money that he is handed changes his personality and causes him to

ignore the people that he has known fondly his entire life but finally

realizes that true goodness comes from a person rather than their social

class. This shows that wealth and position can be corrupting. This theme is

present today as it ever was during Dickens time.


      From a personal standpoint, these novels have had an impressive

influence on my life and the way I think as it would for anybody of my age

and education. By absorbing the themes of true goodness and chance, I have

enlightened myself. I realize that money, power or property does not

necessarily make a person good but rather that depends on the individual.

The tale of Pip can serve as the perfect guide not to become a victim of

false ideology. Undoubtedly people of my age should come away with a better

understanding of life and our place in the world just as I have. It is

quite appropriate for people of our education level to be enriched in the

world of classic literature. The timeless nature of the stories is reason




Work Cited


Dickens, Charles.   Great Expectations, New York: New York Scholastic Inc.,



Hardy, Thomas.   The Return of the Native, New York: New York Nal Penguin

Inc., 1987


Thompson, Frank H.   Cliff Notes on Hardy's The Return of the Native

Nebraska: Lincoln Cliff Notes Inc., 1966   Literature Online, Internet Site Resource

providing criticism on literary works.
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